"waterworks" = one who cries excessively

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Fri Nov 11 17:15:50 UTC 2005

On Fri, 11 Nov 2005 07:58:20 -0500, Dennis R. Preston wrote:

>"Turn off the waterworks" (stop crying) is in my vernacular from the
>late 40's.

Well, yes, that would be the flip side of the "turn on the..." idiom that
I mentioned (OED has a 1931 cite for "turn on the...", and Proquest has
cites back to the 19th century). But have you ever heard of a *person*
referred to as a "waterworks"?

Here's the earliest example I've found so far:

1981 _Daily Intelligencer_ (Doylestown, Pa.) 21 Jan. 3/5 I've been a
regular waterworks this morning (Tuesday), but I'm really feeling good
now, really good.

Amazon and Google Print have a few more examples of "X is a regular

--Ben Zimmer

>>Here's an odd transferred sense of "waterworks" I hadn't seen before...
>>She [Jennifer Aniston] also takes time to point out she's not the
>>waterworks she has been made out to be since her marriage went sour.
>>"I'm pegged as a crier, aren't I? I was upset about the Vanity Fair
>>article. I had one moment when I got emotional because I hadn't sat
>>down with an interviewer since this whole debacle took place. It
>>happened for a second and then it was over."
>>I thought it might be a nonce form, but I managed to find some similar
>>You have been quite the waterworks the past week and last night at
>>Sometimes, If a guy is being a real waterworks, it's a turn-off.
>>In my old age I'm turning into a real waterworks - the tears first
>>appeared as they were flying kites, and it was all downhill from there.
>>[at Carrie's very emotional and weepy goodbye dinner - Charlotte in
>>particular is being a total weepy waterworks]
>>I was a total waterworks because my neighbor and him were friends and
>>students together and when he was playing.
>>I've been a total waterworks lately.
>>Okay, i know that i'ma waterworks but did anyone else cry when Cher
>>died on wolf's rain?
>>I get that from my Mom; she's a waterworks.
>>I suppose if a modifier like "total" or "real" precedes "waterworks" it
>>sounds a bit better, but it still seems strange. I'm not sure what
>>agentive form I'd prefer ("waterworks factory"? "waterworker"?). For
>>me, "waterworks" is too idiomatic (only appearing in set expressions
>>like "here comes the..." or "turn on the...") to take on any extended
>>--Ben Zimmer

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